By Kelly Puente, Staff Writer
Posted: 10/06/2012 03:33:10 PM PDT

Like many college students, Cal State Northridge junior Jocelyn Silva is stressed over her rising tuition and mounting student debt.

The 22-year-old gender studies major, who comes from a working-class family in Fillmore, said she’s even considered taking a year off from school so she can work full time and save money. | More stories: CSU Dominguez Hills | CSU San Bernardino | Cal Poly Pomona | CSUN | Community colleges

Annual tuition at the nation’s largest university system is now $5,970, in addition to $1,047 in campus fees. Cal State University students could see an additional 5 percent tuition hike this spring if voters fail to pass Gov. Jerry Brown’s November tax initiative.

So when the CSU earlier this year approved a round of raises for newly hired campus presidents, Silva said she was outraged.

“So many students are struggling, and yet the CSU is still finding the money to give their presidents raises,” said Silva, a member of the CSU campus group Students for Quality Education. “What do the presidents really do anyway? I can’t understand why they get paid so much money.”

In a time of crowded classrooms, cuts in course offerings and double-digit tuition hikes, Silva isn’t alone in criticizing what many say are bloated presidential salaries.

CSU officials counter that the 400,000-student, 23-campus system — the nation’s largest public university system — needs to offer competitive salaries to attract top talent for what is becoming an increasingly difficult job under state budget cuts.

Furthermore, as the system struggles to offset a nearly $1 billion loss in state funding since 2007 — a number university officials often cite in justifying tuition hikes and program cuts — fundraising now plays a critical role in a president’s duties.

CSU leaders say presidents’ salaries are small in comparison to the amount of money they help raise through campus foundations — though data obtained from the CSU show that not every campus has been meeting fundraising goals.

The issue of funding, and where it’s distributed within the system, has become more critical than ever as the CSU anticipates a $250 million “trigger cut” in state funding if voters reject Brown’s tax initiative. Proposition 30 would raise $8.5 billion for public education and social services by increasing the sales tax by a quarter cent to 7.5 percent and boosting the income tax rate on people earning more than $250,000 a year.

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